The British Medical Association, the lead group for doctors in the United Kingdom, no longer opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide. After a vote at its annual representative meeting on Tuesday, the BMA altered its official stance from opposition to one of “neutrality”.
The vote was close, with 149 for, 145 against, and 8 abstentions. It followed a survey of BMA members last year; of the 30,000 doctors who responded, 40 percent supported a change in the current law, 33 percent favoured opposition, and 21 percent backed neutrality.
Sarah Wootton, of Dignity in Dying, Britain’s lead lobby group for assisted dying, was exultant. She commented: “This is an historic decision and a victory for common-sense.
And well might she be exultant. A position of neutrality signals that British doctors will not oppose legislation when the House of Lords begins a debate on October 22 on a bill introduced by the chair of Dignity in Dying, Baroness Meacher.
As one doctor, Gillian Wright, said in the BMA debate, “neutrality means tacit approval and has enormous political significance.”
Acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide is a sign of the rapid and apparently irresistible cultural change that Britain (and many other Western countries) are experiencing. Christianity is evaporating, secularism is emboldened, “autonomy” is more or less the default philosophy.
What other cultural changes are afoot for British doctors? What else will they not oppose?
A clue comes in another resolution which was carried at the same BMA annual conference: that medical students moonlighting as sex workers should be shielded from censure by universities and professional bodies.
Not only that. The BMA, the delegates declared, must work with medical schools to develop specialised support services for student sex workers. They deserve an “environment free from judgment” and completely confidential.
The head of the BMA Medical Students Committee, Becky Bates, proposed the motion. She explained that “The high cost of studying medicine and unacceptably low levels of financial support in the UK are a major part of why these medical students feel forced to choose this type of high risk work.”
Is this real, or is it just woke posturing? Is it a coincidence that a resolution endorsing prostitution for student doctors was passed at the same time as a resolution endorsing a change in policy on assisted dying? Does that rumbling sound come from tectonic plates shifting beneath our cultural values?
It could be real. In 2012 the editor of the Student BMJ wrote that one in ten trainee doctors claims to know another student who has resorted to prostitution because of increased living costs and rising tuition fees.
And last month, ahead of the vote, Laura Watson, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, told the Daily Mail that the number of students contacting them for support had risen by a third over the last 12 months. “This is undoubtedly related to the costs of medical school, but also speaks to the scarcity of part-time jobs that students might, in the past, have used to supplement their income,” she said.
Could this be the dawn of a bright future for medical students, free from stigma and worries about debt and living expenses? It could give a whole new twist to “the doctor will see you now”.
Perhaps even more clearly than the vote on assisted dying, support for the plight of student sex workers shows that the BMA has gone woke.
Once upon a time, a physician who moonlighted as a prostitute would have brought his or her profession into disrepute. Their choice would have been regarded as utterly inconsistent with human dignity. But that time may be past. The BMA has realised that sex work is just like any other work, with its own rewards and risks.
In any case, if the BMA is throwing antiquated Christian baggage like “Thou shalt not kill” out the window, it might as well chuck “Thou shalt not commit adultery” after it.